Things That Matter

Puerto Rico’s LGBTQ Community Is Under Attack And The Government Is Doing Little To Help

The Coronavirus has shaken Puerto Rico as it’s faced more than 2,000 cases and 114 deaths. And this health pandemic has come amid the island’s ongoing recovery from a string of earthquakes and Hurricane Maria. But the island is also suffering from an epidemic of anti-LGBTQ violence.

In 2020 alone, there have been more than 10 murders of LGBTQ individuals – five of them have been trans women and authorities have solved only three of them. For many in the community, it’s a shock to see that the island is right back where they were ten years ago when the island suffered another rash of LGBTQ-targeted killings.

Hate crimes have risen amid the island’s struggle to contain the Coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Gabriella Baez / Getty

Puerto Rico has been hit by an “epidemic of violence” with five transgender murders in two months.

Opposition lawmakers and campaigners called on the government to publicly acknowledge and investigate the violence, after the bodies of two trans women were found inside a charred car last week and another trans woman was killed in February. 

“Trans people are living in fear, they are terrified,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, spokesman for the Broad Committee for the Search for Equality, an LGBT+ rights advocacy group. 

“It’s as if they’ve opened hunting season against the LGBT+ community, and they’re hunting us, they’re looking for us and they are killing us,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Trans women have been particularly targeted in several gruesome attacks.

Out of the 10 deaths affecting the LGBTQ community, five of them have been trans women.

One woman was killed after being placed in a men’s prison after authorities refused to admit her to a women’s prison. There, she was beaten, tortured, raped and hanged. Her attackers have since been arrested and convicted.

Two trans women were shot and then burned alive in their vehicle. And then another trans women, Alexa, was brutally attacked after being followed by groups of social media trolls

”The killing of a person believed to be a transgender woman that has shocked and angered many in Puerto Rico is likely a hate crime,” Gov. Wanda Vázquez said Tuesday.

“Everything points to this being a hate crime, and that’s how it will be treated,” she said.

Homophobic rhetoric from politicians and religious leaders may have fuelled the bloodshed. 

The current Puerto Rican government has been embroiled in scandal after scandal and much of it has revolved around it’s obvious homophobic rhetoric. The government is working to roll back hard on protections, including adoption rights, hospital visitation, and abortion rights.

Puerto Rico’s leaders have also attempted to pass a ‘religious liberty’ bill that would legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

When a government gives permission to discriminate, you’ll see the spike in violence like the island is seeing. If the government isn’t going to do anything to stop the violence and the police are less likely to investigate, society feels like it can literally get away with murder.

For many, the growing violence is a shock considering Puerto Rico has been making progress against homophobia and transphobia.

Just ten years ago, Puerto Rico suffered another rash of homophobic violence after eight gay and bi men were killed in the span of a couple of months. Their murders shocked much of the country and led to the progress that many borinqueños are proud of.

While many other Caribbean islands outlaw gay sex, the U.S. territory has introduced legal reforms, legalising same-sex marriage in 2015 and allowing trans people to change their gender on birth certificates in 2018.

In fact, Puerto Rico enacted legislation and protections that secured it’s spot at number 20 among the 55 U.S. states and territories when it comes to LGBTQ protections.

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